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The latest Civil Beat poll results on Honolulu rail, released last week, reflect continued antipathy toward the project: Fifty percent of respondents don’t support rail, while 43 percent do. That’s hardly a surprise. In nine Civil Beat polls dating back to February 2012, rail has never received majority support.
Though 43 percent support is the highest from any of the nine polls (8 percent higher than last fall), opposition remains largely consistent with previous polls. The new numbers come on the heels of the worst glut of news coverage the rail project has had since its inception — high-profile stories justifiably focusing on cost overruns totaling nearly $1 billion, sharp criticism from state legislators and Honolulu City Council members and citizen protests at public hearings.
More than anything, the poll results seem a collective sigh of exasperation for a massive public works project that is exhausting the patience of taxpayers, not to mention the lawmakers keeping it in business.
A span of the Honolulu rail line comes together near Waipahu.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Legislative leaders convene once again in conference committee this afternoon to discuss differences over how much money they plan to make available for rail well into the future. As Civil Beat’s Nick Grube reported Thursday, conferees continue to be divided.
Senators prefer a plan that would extend the general excise tax surcharge of .5 percent for an additional five years beyond its current 2022 sunset. House leaders would extend the surcharge by 25 years, starting next year, but cut the surcharge in half. House Finance Committee Chair Sylvia Luke, who is angling to exact a greater financial commitment to the project from the City and County of Honolulu, calls that proposal a “good compromise.”
But good for whom? It’s unclear why a project this mired in red ink should be given a funding extension through 2027, much less 2041, without first coughing up some long-overdue information. For starters, a full accounting of the subcontractor expenses that account for the vast majority of project cost overruns has yet to be provided. HART Executive Director Dan Grabauskas continues to argue that knowing those charges isn’t within the agency’s purview and that disclosure of such costs by subcontractors would be strictly “voluntary” under federal law.
While the Honolulu City Council recently proposed a resolution directing city auditors to get at that information, the resolution hasn’t passed yet, and findings from such an audit wouldn’t be available anytime soon.
Luke’s funding measure, House Bill 134, includes provisions that would require annual project reports to the Legislature. The reports would include management and financial audits and independent project status reports submitted to the Federal Transit Administration. The bill would further require that each element of the annual report be placed as it is completed on the next HART meeting agenda as a discussion item and made available electronically on HART’s website.
That would represent solid movement toward greater transparency. But the first of those annual reports wouldn’t be due until 20 days prior to 2016 legislative session, long after years of new funding will have been approved, under this measure.
With only four days remaining to work out a compromise before the May 1 legislative deadline for fiscal bills, and with both HART and Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell pushing hard for the GET surcharge extension, the pressure is on to come up with a solution that not only has the support of the House and Senate, but Gov. David Ige. Earlier this month, the governor told Civil Beat that extending the surcharge now “would essentially embrace the notion that if in fact the project was mismanaged from a financial perspective, that we are authorizing or condoning that activity.”
Civil Beat last month called for a special legislative session to consider the many issues concerning rail’s expenses and funding — issues so large and complex, they can’t be given adequate examination in the hectic final days of the session. As lawmakers move closer to authorizing project funding for years to come, we continue to be troubled by a cart placed so far in front of the horse that it’s hard to tell whether the two are on the same road.
If the Legislature won’t slow down until it has the answers it needs to meet the challenges of rail responsibly, we call on Gov. Ige to do so. Funding control is the only lever the state can pull to exact transparency in the current environment, and we encourage lawmakers to pull it until the information starts to flow.
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